Glosten Selected as Architect for New Hybrid-Hydrogen Research Vessel

A rendering of a new research vessel that Glosten has been contracted by the University of California, San Diego to design. Image courtesy of Glosten.

Seattle-based design and engineering firm Glosten has been selected as the naval architect for the University of California, San Diego’s new coastal research vessel, the university announced Aug. 2.

The university has said that the new vessel will include a first-of-its-kind hydrogen-hybrid propulsion system, and that Glosten will provide the preliminary design, contract design and detailed design for the research vessel, which is to be operated by San Diego-based Scripps Oceanography.

Glosten was selected after participating in the university’s request for proposal process. The schedule for design and construction includes one year to complete the basic design. Following U.S. Coast Guard approval of the design, the university would then select a shipyard to construct the vessel. Construction and detail design would likely take about three years, according to UC San Diego.

“This vessel will be the first of its kind, and the selection of the naval architect is a major milestone for Scripps,” Scripps Oceanography Associate Director and Head of Ship Operations Bruce Appelgate said. “Fundamentally, our ships have to be reliable and capable in order to support the innovative research our scientists conduct at sea. On top of that, the ship we envision needs to demonstrate that zero-emission power systems work effectively under demanding real-world conditions.”

“It’s the job of the naval architect,” he continued, “to provide the necessary engineering, design and integration skills needed for this project to succeed on every level.”

California legislators allocated $35 million toward the design and construction of the vessel last summer. When complete, the vessel is expected to serve as a platform for education and research dedicated to understanding the California coast and climate change impacts to the coastal ecosystem.

“This vessel will play a critical role in supporting policy decisions to protect our state’s precious coastal environment from climate change impacts, while demonstrating hydrogen’s critical role in California’s carbon-free future,” California State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a former San Diego City Councilmember, said.

“This new vessel will continue the university’s educational mission to train the next generation of scientists, leaders, and policymakers,” UC San Diego said in a prepared statement.

It is envisioned that the vessel will carry up to 45 students and teachers to sea on day trips. The currently unnamed vessel would replace research vessel Robert Gordon Sproul, which has served thousands of University of California students in its 42 years of service but is nearing the end of its service life.

The hybrid-hydrogen design of the new vessel represents an innovation in the maritime industry, according to the university. Currently, emissions from diesel engines on ships contribute to greenhouse gases and pollution. Development of this and subsequent zero-emission vessels is essential to the University of California’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative, which has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2025.

The new vessel is to feature a hybrid propulsion system that integrates hydrogen fuel cells alongside a conventional diesel-electric power plant, enabling zero-emission operations. The design is scaled so the ship will be able to operate 75% of its missions entirely using hydrogen, with only pure water and electricity as reaction products.

For longer missions, extra power would be provided by clean-running modern diesel generators.

“The vessel represents a major step in advancing California’s pledge to reduce global climate risk while transitioning to a carbon-neutral economy,” the university said.

The proposed 125-foot vessel is to be equipped with instruments and sensing systems, including acoustic Doppler current profilers, seafloor mapping systems, midwater fishery imaging systems, biological and geological sampling systems, and support for airborne drone operations. These capabilities, along with state-of-the-art laboratories, would enable multidisciplinary research, advancing our understanding of the physical and biological processes active in California’s coastal oceans.

The vessel would be committed to California research missions, with the capability to study issues vital to the California economy such as the health of marine fisheries, harmful algal blooms, severe El Niño storms, atmospheric rivers, sea-level rise, ocean acidification and oxygen depletion zones.

Glosten has previously worked with Scripps Oceanography in the past, initially more than 60 years ago on the design of Research Platform FLoating Instrument Platform known as FLIP. Glosten was also involved in the midlife refit of r/v Roger Revelle, a $60 million renovation that advanced the scientific capability and service life of Scripps’s largest research vessel.

When completed, the new vessel would join the fleet of vessels managed by Scripps including the Navy-owned research vessels Sally Ride and Roger Revelle, which conduct global oceanographic research, and the r/v Bob and Betty Beyster, a nearshore scientific workboat. All research vessels are stationed and maintained at the university’s Nimitz Marine Facility in Point Loma, San Diego.